Turning wastes into something profitable

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Sunday, February 9, 2014


THE banana peduncle or stalk, which is left to rot after the fruits are harvested, can have industrial uses that can give banana growers additional income, according to a government-funded research.

"Fiber and juice are the main components of banana peduncle. Various products were developed from this lowly material using readily available equipment and simple technologies," said Dr. Mary Ann Tavanlar.

"Instead of being left to rot in the field, the peduncle can be utilized and thereby can emancipate small-holder farm income," added Dr. Tavanlar, a researcher from the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (Biotech) based at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB).

The UPLB was one of the supporters of the research that was spearheaded by the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR). Other supporters included the Unifrutti Corp., the Department of Science and Technology and the Fiber Industry Development Authority of the Department of Agriculture.

The stalk is the stem of the banana plant. The banana stalk produces one huge flower cluster and then dies. The stalk is usually cut off the plant when the bananas are plump and ready to ripen.

According to BAR, an estimated 2.3 million metric tons of banana stalks are either discarded as waste or turned into compost. "Finding uses for the peduncle other than for compost was challenging," said Dr. Tavanlar.

The fiber and juice, the two most common products of banana stalk, can be utilized to make various value-added products. For instance, the fiber was used as pulp and paper products and composite fiber boards, including resin-bonded and cement-bonded peduncle boards.

The fiber was also processed into powdered banana peduncle (PBP) as a source of dietary fiber to make peduncle fiber-enriched meat products such as burgers, frankfurters, and re-structured ham. The study showed that meat products have higher fiber content, better moisture retention, and higher cooking yields than the meat products without PBP.

The juice from the banana stalk was utilized to make a ready-to-drink calamansi juice fortified with potassium and sodium. Most commercial sports drinks contain potassium and sodium to prevent dehydration and to maintain electrolyte levels.

The peduncle juice was also used as a potassium supplement fertilizer in hydroponics that can improve the quality of salad vegetables such as lettuce, chives, and arugula. It was also found to be an effective liquid potassium fertilizer in banana and other high value commodities such as pechay, kale, parsley, carrots, okra, eggplant, and tomato.

Unfortunately, no plan has yet to be made for production of these products as the project was created strictly for research and development purposes.

"Our purpose for the project is just exploratory, but interested companies and farm cooperatives can try to produce the products," Dr. Tavanlar was quoted as saying by GMA News Online.

Unknowingly, banana farmers in Davao del Norte are already earning additional income by processing and selling silk-grade fiber from banana stalks.

"(The fiber is) a commodity that Japan orders at a volume of five tons monthly," reported the Small Enterprises Research and Development Foundation (SERDF), a resource hub of small and medium enterprises.

Banana fiber is used for making fabrics, bags, various types of mats, interior decoration items, window blinds, cushion covers, bolster covers, table lamps, folders, currency paper, ornaments and novelty items, to name few.

"The products are completely eco-friendly and bio-degradable," the SERDF pointed out.

But there are several other uses of banana stalks. Last year, during the height of Super Typhoon Yolanda, a man was photographed by Associated Press’ Nelson Salting who reinforced his house with banana stalks.

In urban areas, banana stalk can be used as sort of a garden. A hole is burrowed in some parts of the stalk. Topsoil is placed on the holes where vegetables are planted. It has been found that the stalks can keep the plant roots moist for a really long time because the stalks harvest water during the rainy days and the water are not easily absorbed by hot weather.

In weddings and parties, the soft part of the banana stalk is often used as a base for flower arrangements. For some occasions, leaves are stuck into the stalk to make arrangements. In weddings, the arrangement symbolizes good wishes to the couple with the hope that their marriage is as fruitful as the banana plant.

In rural areas, children use hardy banana stalks to craft toys. Almost any toy can be made from stalks and some of the most popular are stick horses, pistols, rifles, swords and boats. To make a banana stalk horse, the leaves are stripped off so only the midrib of the banana plant is left. A small leaf attached is left to serve as the horse’s tail.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on February 10, 2014.

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